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Critics accuse Home Secretary of hyped-up rhetoric after increase in migrants crossing the Channel is declared a 'major incident'


Sajid Javid cuts short holiday after dozens attempt Channel crossing by boat over Christmas

Date of Publication:
31 December 2018

Critics accuse Home Secretary of hyped-up rhetoric after increase in migrants crossing the Channel is declared a 'major incident'

31 December 2018

Critical voices have questioned the level of rhetoric used by the Government in response to an increase in the number of asylum seekers and refugees attempting to cross the English Channel by boat from France to the UK.

According to BBC News on Friday, at least 221 migrants had attempted to cross the Channel since the start of November. The Guardian reported that around 96 of those made the crossing between Christmas Day and Friday, 28 December. Most of those crossing from France are believed to be Iranians, Syrians and Iraqis.

BBC News reported on Friday that Sajid Javid had declared the rising number of crossings to be a "major incident". The Home Office said Javid had been appointed "gold commander" and had "taken control of the response" to the situation.

According to Sky News, Javid cut short his family holiday in order to deal with the situation. Immigration minister Caroline Nokes was quoted as saying on Saturday: "I can't comment on his whereabouts for security reasons, but he is on his way back and he will be at his desk on Monday. He is taking control of the situation and I am in regular contact with him, and we had a conference call just yesterday."

In a post on Twitter that attracted close to 3,000 likes, Garden Court barrister and Free Movement editor Colin Yeo asked: "Why on earth is 100 refugees per month crossing the Channel a 'major incident'? That is a tiny number! The danger to the refugees is very worrying but ramping up the rhetoric just makes a mountain out of a molehill."

Gerry Simpson of Human Rights Watch said: "At the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, Syria's neighbours took in 10,000 refugees per DAY. Yet the UK Home Secretary just called the arrival of 75 asylum seekers by boat in 3 days a 'major incident'."

Baroness Hussein-Ece, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, called the declaration of a major incident to be "hyped up nonsense", while Labour MP David Lammy said it was a "manufactured emergency" and likened the Home Secretary's response to that of President Trump over the "migrant caravan".

In response to numerous media outlets talking of a 'migrant crisis', Ian Birrell wrote in the i newspaper yesterday:" Crisis? What crisis? It's just a few boats fueling hysteria about immigration."

Birrell said: "The numbers are minuscule compared with, say, the 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey or more than one million refugees in struggling Uganda. But it is much easier to blame 'ruthless' smugglers rather than face up to complex problems in a globalised world, one in which Britons believe it is their birthright to live, travel and work anywhere while denying such freedoms to people from poorer places."

The Guardian reported on Saturday that the Right Rev Trevor Willmott, bishop of Dover, called for compassion and said the Home Secretary needed to remember that those attempting the perilous crossing were people in need.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director at Amnesty UK, said on Friday: "It's extremely worrying that women, men and children have been compelled to undertake such very dangerous sea crossings in an attempt to find a place of safety and security.

"The Home Secretary needs to understand that we're in this situation because of the persistent refusal of our Government and others to share responsibility in providing asylum and safe passage to people fleeing desperate situations. This has left people with no other option than to take extreme risks to find safety - often at the hands of ruthless or careless smuggling gangs."

In an interview with the Telegraph yesterday, Sajid Javid said there were "no easy answers" to the situation as many of the factors behind it are "outside our control", but he would not "stand by" and allow "reckless" criminals to exploit vulnerable migrants and put them in "grave danger".